Plastic Free July and My Recycling Audit

Why do we need to end our love affair with single use plastic? The age-old saying goes: a picture paints a thousand words:

Photo credit: National Geographic

But, but, but… I don’t litter, what’s happening in these photos is out of my control! Nobody I know with a conscience litters, but it is going to take people power to change the way in which single use plastic is consumed. If the majority of people demand less single use plastic, then wholesalers, retailers and marketers will start using less packaging, making it harder for those that seem to have no conscience to litter in the first place. And I’m sure, even with the best intentions some litter is accidental and unbeknownst to the litterer. These photos evoke some strong emotions in me – what about you?

Before starting the Minimal Sam journey, I’d never heard of a zero waste lifestyle or Plastic Free July. When I was at university, waste management was always an interest of mine. I remember walking around a waste and recycling expo in complete awe (I think I even got a flutter of butterflies walking in I was so excited… eco nerd alert!), but I never realised there was so much more I could be doing. I was an avid recycler and I always brought my reusable bags to the supermarket and refused to use plastic produce bags, choosing to either bring my own or letting my fruit and veg roll around freestyle. I used a reusable coffee cup (most of the time), but I pretty much stopped there.

I never thought too hard about the consequences of plastic production and felt I was doing my bit by recycling. Since this audit, I have learnt so much about plastic and how it impacts out lives.

What My Environmental Audit has taught me about plastic:

  • EVERY piece of plastic ever created still exists (except for a small portion that has been incinerated)
  • Unlike glass, steel and aluminium, plastic cannot be infinitely recycled
  • When we wash our synthetic clothes at home, tiny particles of plastic end up in the oceans, they are so minute they slip through water treatment facilities. These particles don’t break down and are having a devastating impact on marine life.
  • Most tin cans have a plastic lining that contains BPA
  • It is estimated disposable nappies and toothbrushes take up to 500 years to break down
  • Most teabags are now made from plastic, not paper, so they can’t be composted
  • Some children’s toys contain PVC – a highly toxic plastic
  • Plastic that ends up in the ocean breaks down into tiny particles, marine life confuses this for food and ingests it. If this doesn’t kill them, then we do, to put food on the table but that means WE end up eating the plastic too
  • Biodegradable bags aren’t the ‘eco’ option. Depending on what they are made from, some types just break down into smaller pieces, contaminating the soil. When they end up in landfill, it’s often not the right conditions for most materials to break down, creating methane (25 x more potent than CO2)
  • More and more I’m discovering plastic is ubiquitous – not only is it in cans and tea bags but I found it inside cardboard boxes, between the lining of paper bags even at bulk food stores. GASP! Yes unfortunately some of the items I purchase at bulk food stores come in bulk plastic bags

Beach clean up – I didn’t have a larger bag to carry all the rubbish I saw but I found this little purse discarded on the beach, a plastic tea bag that I found in the compost, plastic hiding in flour bags.

However, it is possible to live an almost single use plastic free life (almost because most zero wasters advocate bulk food stores – both bulk stores near me have goods delivered in plastic, I have seen with my own eyes. I can only hope the retailers are disposing of the plastic responsibly and working towards more sustainable solutions on our behalf).

Some people have even reached celebrity status for living an almost zero waste lifestyle including: Bea Johnson (Zero Waste Home), Lauren Singer (Trash is for Tossers), Tammy Logan (Gippsland Unwrapped), Lindsay Miles (Treading My Own Path) and Anita Vandyke ( A Zero Waste Life) to name a few.

Although it seems a zero waste life isn’t 100% possible yet, I’m still so excited to be apart of Plastic Free July! I’m voting with my wallet and saying “I want less plastic in the world”. It will be a challenge and I will have slip ups (had one on day three!), but I hope it will help me break my habits of convenience and start the ball rolling on the zero waste revolution our planet needs. Mother nature deserve an indefinite rest from all the litter, pollution and waste we have been throwing her way for decades!

Plastic Free July gives some really good reasons why we should participate:

  • In the first 10 years of this century MORE plastic was produced than the entire last century
  • Australians send 1 million tonnes of plastic waste to landfill each year
  • Why use something for a few seconds that is going to spent the REST (and then some) of your life trying to break down in landfill?

So here are the rules:

  1. Attempt to refuse single-use plastic during July.
  2. Remember it’s not going to be easy!
  3. Collect any unavoidable single-use plastic you buy. Keep in a dilemma bag and share it with us at the end of the challenge.
  4. It’s up to you regarding how long you participate. You might decide to go plastic-free for a day, a week, a month or longer! However long you choose will still make a contribution.

It is a challenge, not a competition so don’t worry about being perfect

Plastic Free July

A challenge like this needs to be tailored to the individual so our exception to the rules are:

  • Cows milk in cartons – cartons are lined with plastic – Peanut and husband refuse to give up milk (which is ok as I’m still trying to get used to vegan milk in my coffee) – I will aim to source it in reusable glass bottles but that may mean driving halfway across Melbourne to do so.
  • Nappies – we use cloth during the day and disposable at night. We tried cloth overnight again and had a severe leak in our bed (why we stopped in the first place). We are STILL waiting for the mattress protector to dry 4 days later! I will try once more with the cloth over night but if that leaks again I will add them to my dilemma bag and count the days to toilet training.
  • Cans – if the alternative is a plastic container, surely the amount of plastic is significantly less right?
  • Glass bottles with plastic lids – you can’t win them all
  • We will continue to use any items we already have packaged in plastic until they are gone

Recycling Audit

As you can see our house is not quite zero waste just yet. This is just under one weeks worth. There was also a yoghurt container that I kept to reuse and another milk container that didn’t make the shot.

I hope by the end of this month I will have been able to eliminate most of the plastic containers. Our recycling is one thing that hasn’t changed much since starting the audit, unlike our soft plastics, which has definitely reduced.



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